Trump’s planned budget cuts to tsunami warning puts thousands at risk

The Trump budget proposes to eliminate seismic and water monitoring, needlessly putting coastal residents in jeopardy

News Report
Hawaii Independent Staff

Proposed budget cuts by President Trump would compromise the timeliness and accuracy of tsunami forecasting and warnings, thereby putting thousands of coastal residents at needless risk, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The budgetary reductions unveiled last week would also negate key provisions of the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act which Trump himself signed into law on April 18.

According to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration experts, the cuts will significantly reduce warning time of an incoming tsunami to coastal populations, especially in Alaska and Hawaii. In addition to eliminating over 60 percent of the staff for the NOAA Tsunami Warning Center (from 40 positions to only 15), the Trump budget would terminate funding for three separate tsunami detection systems: Land-based seismic sensors; Coastal water level sensors; and Deep-ocean buoys (the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis or DARTs).

NOAA’s own Congressional Submission concedes that, “This termination is anticipated to have a 20 percent or greater impact on the accuracy, certainty, and timeliness of NOAA’s tsunami watches and warnings.”

However, NOAA experts who have contacted PEER indicate that even this admitted marked deterioration of advance warning capacity and accuracy is a significant underestimate of the impacts. In addition, the cuts most affect the coastal populations already at the highest risk from tsunami inundation and damage.

“Disconnecting land and water-based tsunami sensors is an incredibly foolish false economy,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the total package of $35 million in proposed spending reductions would be dwarfed by the public savings from timely early warning of even a single tsunami. “This proposal makes it apparent that the experts at NOAA are divorced from their own budget planning.”

In addition, the Trump cuts would functionally nullify key provisions of the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act (part of the larger Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 unanimously adopted by both houses of Congress). Its purpose is to improve “mapping, modeling, and assessment efforts to improve tsunami detection, forecasting, warnings, [and] notification….” 

“It looks as if the left hand does not know what the right hand has already signed in the Trump White House,” added Ruch, pointing out that this was one of the few substantive new laws (other than repeals of late-term Obama regulations) Trump has signed. “While many predict that this Trump budget will not be adopted, disturbingly, the logic that produced this plan still persists among Trump decision-makers.”